An Aotearoa Blackcaps T20I squad has been offered for the T20 bonanza with a touring England outfit and there are more changes than most would realise. The last time we saw the Blackcaps T20I team was in Sri Lanka and despite winning that series somewhat convincingly, a bunch of Blackcaps battlers are in line to continue their start to the glorious Plunket Shield.
Todd Astle, Tom Bruce, Seth Rance and Hamish Rutherford all took part in the Sri Lanka excursion, with Rutherford a late call up for an injured Martin Guptill. Blair Tickner and Jimmy Neesham are the notable inclusions to face England, while Trent Boult will pop in for a couple games near the end fo the series to give Lockie Ferguson a wee rest. Most will concern themselves with the ins and outs of the big dawgs and headlines revolve around Kane Williamson taking some time out, Tim Southee leading the side and Ferguson making his return. As always, scratch beneath that surface and there are a few decisions to keep tabs on that offer plenty more funk.
In our Plunket Shield wrap podcast, I suggested that Glenn Phillips wouldn't be too far away from Blackcaps T20I cricket this summer. That's based purely on runs, not potential as Phillips has consistently jacked up Caribbean Premier League runs as well as Plunket Shield runs to build a rather solid case for selection - in any Blackcaps team. Phillips was the best kiwi batsman in the Caribbean recently, scoring over 100 more runs than Colin Munro, Colin de Grandhomme or Jimmy Neesham and doing so with a higher strike-rate.
For what it's worth, Phillips then slotted back into Plunket Shield cricket and hit a 51, taking his First Class average to 41.12. Phillips isn't in this Blackcaps squad though and that's fair, considering there isn't too much wiggle room in the batting line up. This merely presents a situation where T20I pressure is building on a few of these Blackcaps batsmen, who need to churn out runs to command selection ahead of World T20.
One of those is Colin Munro, who scored 25 runs @ 8.33avg in the three-game series in Sri Lanka. Then Munro went to the Caribbean and hit one 50+ score in 8 innings, with a solid 33avg/127.62sr and in isolation that CPL campaign isn't so bad, but when put in the 2019 basket, Munro has endured a dip in production. After three years averaging 30+ in T20I cricket, Munro is averaging 22.71 this year and in 14 ODI games Munro has two 50+ scores @ 24.92avg.
Simply put; Munro has to score runs. The rest of the batting line up is fairly solid and throughout this T20I adventure we have to remember that Williamson will slot into any Blackcaps T20I team, without fuss. Apart from Williamson and even with the fact that Rutherford and Bruce got T20I call ups ahead of Phillips recently, I'm going to stay tuned into Phillips' work and how that relates to Blackcaps selections.
Neesham didn't play in Sri Lanka, having been one of the Blackcaps more reliable operators at the World Cup. In the CPL, Neesham was decent with the ball, taing 11w @ 26.90avg/11.10rpo and with the bat? Neesham banged 75 runs in 7inns @ 18.75avg/127.11sr in what could be described as an under-whelming campaign. None of which really commands selection for the Aotearoa national team, although it was weird when Neesham wasn't selected to start with and this feels more like a case of reverting to the norm with Neesham.
Todd Astle is rewarded for his 3w @ 9.33avg/7rpo performance in Sri Lanka (one game), with being dropped and Ish Sodhi is rewarded for his 1w @ 57avg/8.14rpo (two games) performance in Sri Lanka with faith. That doesn't sound overly logical, there is a clear T20I hierarchy in the spin department for Aotearoa with Sodhi and Santner enjoying consistent opportunities via their T20I history.
Coach Gary Stead directly referred to the fact that Sodhi and Santner are top-10 T20I bowlers, which is true; Santner's 5th, Sodhi 10th. Below the surface is a minor narrative to watch out for though as much of Sodhi's T20I reputation stems from the 2015-2017 period where Sodhi had yearly averages of 14 (2015), 13.90 (2016) and 14.63 (2017). Kinda bonkers, then Sodhi averaged 37.40 in 2018 and so far this year Sodhi is average 24.85.
Where that average finishes after the next two months will fascinating, considering 2018 saw Sodhi play 13 games and that's double the number of games he's played in any other year. Sodhi is six games deep this year and when Sodhi's put up a similar number of games to last year, his average will either bump up to last year's figure or stay in the healthy low-20s.
Santner has gone the opposite route, pumping out 18.55avg through seven games this year. 2015 saw Santner average 14, followed by 12.53 in 2016 when Santner and Sodhi were on fire. Then came 41.80avg in 2017 and 27.85avg in 2018. These two are definitely the best T20I kiwi spinners, I'm intrigued as to how this landscape plays out in the coming months and whether Sodhi and Santner can re-affirm their standing as key factors in Blackcaps T20I cricket.
Blair Tickner's inclusion feels like it is a direct replacement for Central Districts Stags comrade Seth Rance. Rance played all three games in Sri lanka, taking 3w (all in one game) @ 40avg/10.90rpo and as Tickner's cruising around with a T20 average - which comes primarily from Super Smash cricket - of 17.42, Tickner deserves a crack.
In forecasting what Tickner could offer, I'm cautiously optimistic after Tickner took 1w in 17 overs vs Australian 11 prior to the World Cup. In his T20I debut, Tickner took 1w @ 34avg/8.50rpo, which I'd counter with Tickner growing into international cricket where he is likely to improve with more reps.
Southee, Boult and Ferguson are supported by de Grandhomme, Neesham and Daryl Mitchell in the seam bowling group. This leaves me pondering the battle between Scott Kuggeleijn and Tickner, two hostile youngish seamers who are competing for game time in this T20I squad and will be competing for further honours in the future. Kuggeleijn was nifty in Sri lanka with 3w @ 25.33avg/7.60rpo and even with all sorts of funky pockets of Blackcaps T20I intrigue, the battle between these two fringe seamers may be the pick of the bunch.
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Peace and love 27.